- Soil Management: soil quality/health
Soil health monitoring is an integral part of sustainable agriculture (Doran and Zeiss, 2000). Unfortunately, most current tests for determining soil health rely predominately on chemical and physical properties, excluding biological properties, thus resulting in incomplete characterizations (Cardoso et al., 2013). Phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) analyses are a widely available measure of soil biological properties, and are unique in that they indicate not only microbial biomass, but also community structure. However, many producers in the Southern Plains have indicated that they do not fully understand the relationship between PLFA results, soil health, and management decisions and consequently are reluctant to spend money on PLFA analyses. Furthermore, it is unclear to what extent PLFA sample size affects the accuracy of the results with regard to characterization of the microbial community of an entire field. Because the sampling effort may require a substantial investment of time and money, it is important to optimize the balance between information return and resources devoted to sampling.
This study will improve our understanding of how climate, soil, and management impact soil biological communities in Southern Plains agricultural systems, and enhance producer understanding of PLFA analyses and applications in the Southern Plains.
- Identify the best practical approach for a landowner to assess soil health via PLFA;
- Demonstrate the utility of PLFA analyses to a range of producers across the Southern Plains, thus enabling them to assess the costs and benefits of using the tests as part of their own soil health monitoring processes.